We’re into day three of the Six Days of the Giro series, and it’s time to hit the dirt.
If ever a Keepers Tour goes to Italy, then we’re doing this climb. No doubt. Climbing on gravel up a real mountain, what’s not to love?
In fact, you could probably do an entire Italian GravĂ© KT, such are the number of iconic dirt roads in the country’s great races. The Gavia (before they went and ruined it with tarmac), Plan Des Corones, Strade Bianche, they’ve all seen their share of legendary racing on their unpaved surfaces, but the one that stands out most for me is the Colle delle Finestre.
Coming from a mountain bike background, the notion of racing road bikes on dirt really tickled my fancy, as if it needed tickling anyway; so when the organisers of Il Giro announced they were sending Stage 19 of the 2005 race up the Finestre, well, we needed to witness that one live. But the month of May wasn’t on the radar of TV stations in Australia back then, and even July only got selective attention. If you were lucky enough (meaning you could afford it) to have pay tv, the genius idea was to subscribe to Italian station RAI for the month, and watch every stage of the Giro live, complete with Italian commentary. It didn’t matter if we weren’t proficient in the language, we could recognise the riders’ names, dammit.
So we gathered that Saturday night, with a gut-full of pizza and Nastro Azzuro to fuel us through the late/early hours. We had an interpreter, or so we told one of the gathered throng who spent the night believing the updates coming from the K-Man were actually genuine. “What are they saying now?” “Ah, still climbing.” “Getting tired.” “Di Luca still on the front.” To this day, that guy probably thinks Italian cycling commentators are the masters of stating the bleedin’ obvious.
What was bleedin’ obvious was that the racing was pretty good, but the spectacle on the mountain was amazing. Thousands lined the roadside and clung to craggy cliffs, creating a stadium-type atmosphere on the higher reaches of the Alpine pass. Being on the tail-end of the EPO era (I mean, Gonchar climbing with those guys? Come on!), the combatants rode the climb at a fast, even tempo; Di Luca, resplendent in all-white of the Pro Tour leader, never left the front for the entire climb, with Simoni and Rujano (an Evanescent if ever there was one) in wheels two and three. They never budged. Maglia Rosa Savoldelli was losing time each kilometre, and Simoni was virtual leader on the road as they summited. Il Falcone used his famed descending skills to pull back time on the descent and save his GC lead. Luckily, Frank wasn’t on the descent and Paolo made it down in one piece this time.
If the stage had finished on the gravelly summit, it would have been decisive, but just for shits and giggles they sent the riders up to Sestriere for some added cruelty. But the Finestre had made its mark on the race, and on me.
Full video of the climb and stage finish:
Oh yeah, they went up it again in 2011…